I have never been one to create those sweet little Christmas crafts of Santa Claus with the little cotton ball beards, lined up perfectly in the hallway. (One main reason being, that I loathe cotton balls and how they feel!) However, each year, I contemplate how my students and families will feel when they don’t walk into the school on December 1st and see a fully decked out Christmas-y classroom. Don’t get me wrong, I love love love Christmas! The home I share with my family has a fully decorated tree, lights, and little stockings hung by our tree. (Although, our tree is only decorated 3/4 of the way down to stop little fingers from pulling all the ornaments off!)
But, when it comes to the classroom, I like to leave it up to the kids. Our classrooms are getting quite culturally diverse and not all of our students celebrate Christian holidays, like Christmas. This can be a touchy subject, but I think it’s really important to value each of those little ones and their families that walk through our doors. So, instead of only celebrating Christmas in the classroom, we celebrate the traditions of all of the children. Here are some things we have done to value the winter traditions in the classroom.
Each year, at the beginning of December we have a discussion of all the ways that we like to celebrate and spend time with our families over the break from school.
Celebrate family traditions…
This is my favourite thing to do! At the beginning of December, I send home a note to parents asking them to send three photos of their families celebrating their traditions through the years. Many families send photos of building snowmen, sitting in front of the Christmas tree, having dinner during Hanukah, or going sledding. I gather all the photos together, and once each of the kids have some photos, we use them to write family stories. Once their family stories are written, we put them together into a classroom book that can be shared with the class. Then, we take 1 or 2 of the photos that were sent and create a large documentation panel. The children hang it themselves in the hallway (which of course, can be a learning curve in itself! Working together to find the right height and space needed. As well as making sure everyone will have their own space to do some writing about their tradition.)
Then the fun starts! The kids all head out into the hallway, into a bustle of excitement, as they take to the large panel, gluing and writing their holiday traditions down. Once its complete, I just love how it looks, sometimes crooked, sometimes a bit messy, but all their own!
Create your own tree…
So of course, there have always been students who celebrate Christmas (sometimes alongside other family, cultural, or religious holidays), and these children want to have Christmas decorations in the classroom. Of course, this usually involves a tree! Now, because I’m a bit of an environmentalist, some may even say (especially my husband!), that I’m a hippie 🙂 I like the kids to make their tree! I feel a project coming on!! So we start the tree planning, as a class project. We brainstorm how we could make a tree, and what materials to use. One year, the kids brought different sizes of boxes that we wrapped in green paper to stack into a pyramid shape. This caused some discussion on structures, and added to some interesting buildings happening in the block area. Another year, the kids cut paper rolls that they glued and painted into the shape of a tree.
Portraits of Santa…
The majority of the children that I teach have a complete fascination with Santa Claus! It’s so sweet to hear their stories of trying to stay up all night, lining up in the mall to meet him, and going to their parents Christmas parties to sit on his knee. So to revel in all that excitement, we read a little Santa story, and I put out a million and one books with Santa pictures in them. We talk about what we might need to put in our picture, and label as a class parts of Santa Claus. The kids draw up a quick plan of what they want their Santa to look like and label it. Then, they get a great big piece of paper and a pencil, and draw their Santa. Once they are happy with their picture, they use a black Sharpie marker and trace over their lines. The children then get to choose their medium; paint, pastels, crayons, markers. Such a sweet little tribute to such a great figure!
Inviting in families to share stories…
From our beginning discussions about family traditions, celebrations, or religious ceremonies during the holiday season, I always learn something new about the families in the classroom. I most often have at least one student that celebrate Ramadan (which is a month of fasting to commemorate the Koran), Hanukkah, and depending on the dates, sometimes Diwali (the “festival of lights,” a Hindu celebration) will occur at the end of November or beginning of December.
There is no better way for the children to learn about these religious and cultural celebrations then through the families and children that celebrate them. I like to invite parents or family members in to the classroom to share with us stories and customs. I know that through doing this, families feel valued and appreciated. Sometimes, other cultural traditions can be swept under the rug during this time of year, when the Chrisitian tradition of Christmas, takes over. Its always good to show an understanding and appreciation of all the children that walk through our doors.
I would love to hear some of your classroom teachings that take place during the holidays!